Bath extends moratorium on 'smart' meters; CMP seeks quick response from customers

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BATH — The City Council on Monday narrowly voted to extend a moratorium on the mass installation of wireless “smart” electric meters.

The moratorium requires Central Maine Power Co. to obtain approval from customers before it installs the new meters. CMP is already contacting customers to determine whether they want the new meters or would rather pay to opt out of the program.

In its second and final vote on the measure, the council voted 5-4 for the six-month extension. Councilors previously approved the proposal by the same, one-vote margin on Dec. 7.

The initial, 180-day moratorium was enacted June 1.

CMP threatened at the time to sue if the city did not reverse the temporary ban. But company spokesman Jon Carroll said Wednesday that CMP does not plan to take legal action.

Instead, the company sent a Dec. 16 mailing to Bath customers who have not indicated to CMP whether they want a smart meter. The mailing complies with the moratorium language, Carroll said.

The mailing asks customers to choose between three options: go with the smart meter and incur no additional cost; get a smart meter that emits no radio signal, which has a one-time charge of $20 and a monthly charge of $10.50, or get an electro-mechanical meter, which comes with a one-time charge of $40 and a monthly fee of $12.

“Your City Council has requested that all property owners in Bath be contacted prior to installation and, has requested that you confirm your acceptance of the new standard smart meter,” the letter said.

Carroll told the City Council that “we moved ahead with our mailings to customers in accordance with your ordinance, so that we could get this project done. When the council approved the (moratorium) ordinance last June, it obviously referred to the proceedings of the (Public Utilities) Commission, and there were several pending actions, so we decided to wait.”

He said there are now no pending cases before the PUC, and that CMP “hoped that when I came back here earlier in December, that the commission had addressed your concerns and that you would not extend the ordinance.”

Carroll noted that CMP has installed 530,000 smart meters, and that the company has 620,000 customers.

“We’re going to be done with this project in five or six weeks, so we just decided we need to move ahead,” he said.

Although the mailing asks customers to respond by Dec. 27, Carroll said the PUC requires 30-day notice. Customers who fail to respond will be contacted again, he said, until CMP knows which option they want.

Councilor Kyle Rogers noted that a lot of residents are out of town or heading out of town for the holidays, and that many people do not want to make a hurried decision.

“I think it’s a little disingenuous to throw a Dec. 27 fake date in there, when they have 30 days, because there’s nothing (in the mailing) that says ‘oh, never mind the 27th, you really have 30 days,'” he said.

Councilor Mari Eosco questioned how the moratorium can be enforced.

“They are going to install these meters one way or the other,” she said. “We can’t put policemen in front of people’s homes to stop them; we’re coming back to a place where this moratorium doesn’t really have teeth.”

Councilors Steve Brackett, Meadow Rue Merrill, Ruthe Pagurko, David Sinclair and Rogers voted to extend the moratorium. Councilors Sean Paulhus, Bernie Wyman, Andy Winglass and Eosco voted against it.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.